By Andrew Barksdale | Fay Observer
Chris Miguez stepped outside for lunch, walked across a parking lot and scanned the menu painted on the side of an orange Taco Loco food trailer.
“I could probably eat everything on here,” Miquez joked last week before ordering a torta sandwich and a bottle of Coke.
The portable Mexican eatery – pulled by a pickup and connected to a generator – has taken up residence in front of the Bragg Boulevard Flea Market.
Fayetteville officials say they want to begin regulating so-called food trucks, and trailers, because they are a growing alternative for a meal on the go. Officials said they want to prevent a proliferation of mobile stands in any one area, and they want to ensure that the trucks or trailers operate in a clean and safe manner.
A set of proposed regulations unanimously sailed through the Fayetteville Planning Commission last week. The Fayetteville City Council is scheduled to take a final vote after a public hearing Oct. 28.
According to the proposal, the city would regulate the parking and operations of food trucks and the number of food trucks allowed per lot, as well as establish minimum separations between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. The rules also would require the mobile units to comply with local and state health codes.
The Cumberland County Health Department already inspects food trailers, as they do traditional restaurants.
The city has 28 licensed “catering trucks,” which include vehicles such as the Taco Loco along Bragg Boulevard. Other mobile eateries have been seen along Owen Drive selling barbecue.
Miguez, a 37-year-old veterinary technician at Cape Fear Animal Hospital, said she eats lunch from the Taco Loco about once a week because of the convenience.
After Miguez left with her order last week, a Fayetteville police officer pulled up, got out and also ordered lunch. A worker then unfurled a red umbrella and turned on Mexican music from a speaker on the trailer. The music was barely audible over the din of boulevard traffic.
At first blush, it appears the Taco Loco would not run afoul of any of the proposed regulations, except for a rule banning any “audio amplification.”
The owner of the Taco Loco, Vanesa Aguilera, 29, said she wasn’t aware of the proposed rules. She said she hopes the rules don’t shut her business down.
Aguilera is from Mexico, she said, and owns a taco stand in Smithfield. She said she began operating the Taco Loco in Fayetteville about three years ago. During the past year, two or three food trucks selling American fare have opened in Fayetteville, she said.
More food trucks mean more competition and fewer customers, Aguilera said.
The issue received little opposition last week when the Planning Board voted to recommend approval.
“Plus, I like the hot dogs they sell at the cart,” board member William Fiden said, laughing after the vote.
The proposed regulations would not affect handcarts, such as a hot dog stand on a downtown sidewalk, said Will Deaton, a city planner who drafted the rules after reviewing similar ordinances for food trucks in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro.
Handcarts are allowed downtown, and they are regulated. Although the city does not have an extensive set of rules for food trucks or trailers, as a practical matter, they can’t fit downtown. The city requires food truck owners who get a $50 privilege license to keep their trucks 50 feet from the roadway – a standard difficult to meet in the city center.
Nathan Runion and Emily Kozel said they attended last week’s Planning Board meeting because they are thinking about reopening Horne’s Deli on Hay Street. If that plan falls through, they said, they would like to set up a food truck on Hay Street.
“It has the most traffic, and the startup costs are much less,” Runion said, adding that he didn’t know yet if his idea for a food truck would work downtown with the new rules.
Kozel said downtown has become a destination for restaurants, but food trucks don’t really compete. They’re places to get food while walking and shopping, she said. People have the luxury of sitting down and ordering alcohol at the downtown restaurants, she said.
City Councilman Wade Fowler said he asked the city this summer to consider adopting regulations to streamline the process for people wanting to start operating food trucks. He thinks a growing and diverse city such as Fayetteville has room for more food trucks.
“They are a growing trend in the country, and there is no point being behind on the rules and playing catchup,” Fowler said.